I didn’t bother shutting down the communication array after I sent the messages. The location of Trigon Three wasn’t a secret and whoever was tracking me already knew that it was my destination. And I knew I’d be hailed as soon as we returned to normal space.
I was right.
Less than a minute after the jump, an inbound communication request came through on the Rogue Coalition’s encrypted channel. I accepted and Ari’s irate face appeared on screen.
A statuesque blond in her early thirties, Ari was stunning even in anger. I joked that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up, even though she was only two years older than me. She always told me I had about twenty centimeters to go.
“Where have you been for the last week?” she demanded. “And why aren’t you answering neural links? Have you turned traitor?” My bodyguard was not one to mince words. She was also one of my closest friends.
“Hello, Ari,” I drawled just to watch her scowl deepen. “Did you get my message?”
She frowned. “No.”
The Rogue Coalition’s com system was not exactly top-of-the-line. It didn’t surprise me that I’d arrived before the message. It was another reason I’d stopped at a communication hub to send the ransom request.
“I’ve kidnapped the Kos Emperor. The Quint mercs I stole him from did not appreciate my interference. It’s liable to get a little hot here until I can unload him back to his people. Make sure everyone knows the evacuation plan and what to do in case of attack.”
We had too many people in Arx and not enough places for them to go for a full-scale evacuation, but maybe a few could get clear. “Anyone who has friends or family they can shelter with at another settlement for a few days should leave now. The soldiers and advisors likely to come into contact with the Emperor need to shut down their neural links while he is in residence.”
Ari didn’t even blink, she just started typing commands on her terminal. “Anything else?” she asked.
“I have reason to believe an unflagged Quint destroyer called the Ticon might make an appearance soon. We need to make it feel unwelcome. Also, I already sent the ransom demand, so some Kos ships may show up. Don’t attack unless they start it.”
“Anything else?” she asked with a raised brow.
“I’m not a traitor.”
That brought back the scowl. “Anything else, like how you got that shiner? Or maybe an apology for leaving your bodyguard behind while you went off to do something incredibly stupid and dangerous?”
“Stupid, dangerous, and successful. That last one makes all the difference,” I said. She would eventually get the story from me, but for now I wasn’t going to volunteer just how close it had been. “I needed someone here to keep an eye on things while I was gone.”
“You have half a dozen advisors who would jump at the chance.”
“Yes, but I trust you the most.”
She rolled her eyes. “Hurry up and get on the ground so I can kick your ass. How are you planning to transfer Emperor Kos?”
“I’m going to ask him to cooperate,” I said.
“Will that work?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. If not, I’ll stun him.”
“I’ll get your orders sent out then meet you at your hangar,” Ari said. “Don’t move the Emperor until I’m there.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said with a mock salute. “See you soon.”
She nodded and cut the link.
With all of the ship’s systems back online, Invictia didn’t need my input to land. I stayed in the pilot’s seat anyway because there was always the possibility of an anomaly.
From a distance, Trigon Three was a gray rock half covered in gray oceans. Up close it wasn’t much better. It had been terraformed just enough that humans could survive on its barren surface, but a lush utopia it was not. Most of the buildings were underground to escape the howling wind and bitter cold.
Invictia dropped roughly through the atmosphere, aiming for the spaceport at Arx, the main city on Trigon Three. There were a few other settlements on the planet, but their locations were more closely guarded.
The Rogue Coalition had slowly been absorbing planets in this sector but Trigon Three was our public face. I did my best to draw all eyes here so our other settlements were safer.
At a particularly vicious bump, Valentin yelled from his cell, “Samara, are you trying to kill me?”
I turned on the intercom. “We’re landing and it seems the compensators were damaged in our little firefight. Hold on.”
“You know what would be better than that? Being strapped into a chair with a harness!” He grunted as the ship lurched sideways.
“Quit whining, we’re almost down,” I said.
The spaceport was a cluster of low, gray buildings on the vid screens. A few ships were parked on landing pads. More would be in the underground hangar.
Arx itself used to be a military base, so it was built for utility rather than beauty. The surface buildings were low-slung plascrete monoliths with minimal windows. The underground rooms weren’t much better, all straight lines and white walls. One of the first things I’d done as queen was install daylight simulators and ceiling panels that mimicked clear blue skies in the common areas.
One privilege of queendom was a private underground hangar that was connected to the main buildings and my residence. As Invictia approached, the hangar doors slid open. We slowly dropped down to the landing pad below.
Invictia settled on the ground and the engines cut out. The vid screens showed Ari waiting at the entrance with a quartet of soldiers. I lowered the cargo ramp and she headed our way. I unclipped from my seat and went to talk to Valentin before she arrived.
I stopped by my quarters and grabbed a blaster full of stun bolts from the armory cabinet. I strapped the holster around my hips. Hopefully Valentin would agree to cooperate, but if he wouldn’t, then I was prepared to do what I had to do.